TEN YEARS LATER...
The sound of her bedroom door slamming against the wall instantly awoke Lina from her deep slumber. But it was the voice that accompanied that startling sound that made her groan in annoyance.
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU,” her father sang in a needlessly loud and obnoxious tone, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!”
Lina yanked the covers up over her head in a feeble attempt to drown him out.
It didn’t work.
“HAPPY SWEET SIXTEEN BIRTHDAY TO YOU, DEAR LINA!” Her father continued, a rush to his words to keep beat with the melody.
He was not going to go away, which wasn’t his greatest offense. As irritating as her father could be, she understood he was trying to make this birthday special as it was going to be a huge milestone in her life. And yet, she couldn’t help but feel a little bitter at his impeccable timing to interrupt one of the best dreams she had ever had.
Lina clenched her eyes shut tightly. If she could just remember, if she could just pick up where she left off... just a second or two more to admire his face, then maybe, her dream would continue. Her father would leave—quietly, preferably—and maybe her raging hormones would be granted release.
That didn’t happen either.
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!” Lucan wailed, his screechy and tone deaf voice reaching through her room and piercing her ears. Goddess, make it stop, she thought.
But then he really did it.
Swiftly and without warning, her precious blankets were snatched away from her, pulled clean off her bed, leaving her pajama-clad body cold and exposed. “Ugh, da-ad!” Lina gave him the whiniest of objections. Shouldn’t the birthday girl get to sleep in? She further tried to ignore him by shoving her head under her pillow and gripping the sides tightly with her hands. She was certain it wouldn’t work but damnit if she wouldn’t try anything and everything.
She didn’t want to wake up.
She never wanted to wake up.
Almost every night for the last ten years Angel had entered her dreams. Whether it was a smile, a laugh, or a touch, she dreamt of his beautiful face often. And every day when she would open her eyes she would wonder if today was the day—the day where, ”Yes, but not soon,” would change.
How had his face aged since she first saw him? Did his innocent eyes still dance with secret mirth? Was the sound of his voice still the same as she recalled it to be? Would he still tower over her small body even though her height had extended with age?
Yes. She had a crush on a man she did not know. And a long lasting one at that. Suspiciously, her father claimed ignorance as well but that didn’t sway her trust in Angel in any way. He said he would see her again and she believed him.
Of course, she had been waiting for Theron to return to her as well, and that hadn’t happened either.
She wondered if it ever would.
The room suddenly grew silent—deafeningly so, and for a split second, Lina thought her father had decided to leave her be. Could she be that lucky?! She very much hoped so.
Of course, now she was awake, so did it really matter?
Goddess, she hated mornings.
The tension in Lina’s body lessened. Slowly, she pulled the pillow off of her head, eyes still closed, and listened intently, testing her other senses. The smell of coffee and bacon wafted up the stairs and through her open door. She smiled unintentionally. It was her birthday, so naturally, her father had cooked her favorite breakfast: pancakes and bacon. It was almost enough to spring her body off the cotton mattress it was sprawled out upon.
Listening for the smallest of creaks from the wooden floor and any sign of air flowing in and out of her dad’s lungs, she came up empty.
He was gone!
Or maybe she was wrong...
Because the moment she opened her eyes, Lucan’s face was inches from hers. “HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!” He wailed.
Lina’s heart felt as if it had jumped clean out of her chest, chased out of the room by pure startlement. She squealed and back-peddled off the bed, crashing quite ungracefully onto the floor.
Her father’s baritone laugh resounded throughout her small bedroom, causing her to lift her head and peer over the mattress. She glared at him as he clutched his stomach and keeled over in hilarity.
Blowing a stray strand of blonde hair out of her face, she sighed. Admitting defeat, though refusing to voice it, she rested her elbows on her bed and ran her fingers through her hair.
He was still laughing.
And suddenly, so was she.
It was rare to see her father smile, better yet laugh, and Lina cherished every moment in which he did so. His eyes, usually so lifeless, danced and twinkled with amusement. While she had been mildly irritated with him prior, now she felt nothing but pure love for the man that had sacrificed everything to raise her. She loved him not only because he was her father, but because he was who he was. Intelligent, caring, and protective... maybe a little too protective, but she was his only child so she could understand even if she didn’t always agree.
He was her dad, the first man she ever loved, trusted, and adored. He was her everything and she was his and he reminded her every day how precious she was to him. Without a mother, he was her only lifeline.
He had never brought another woman in to fill the void in the heart of his child, never even entertained the idea, but she didn’t care. Lina didn’t want a stand-in mother. Her father did just fine by himself and she thought it rather romantic that he refused another, staying loyal to his deceased wife—his mate.
After Theron’s departure, Lina raised an endless amount of questions that not only resulted in weeks of werewolf and lycan study sessions with Lucan but also the story behind her mother’s death and the revelation that they were, in fact, also werewolves. Lina soon had an explanation for how her father had seemed to communicate with Theron without ever opening his mouth to speak.
In turn, she embraced her heritage with open arms, waiting patiently for the day she would first shift.
And today was that day.
A pup was not considered a true wolf in the eyes of their kind until after their first shift at age sixteen. Once she received her wolf form, she was automatically granted the status of an adult. In the human world, she would still be deemed an illegal age but that didn’t matter to her. She only looked forward to what it would feel like—her senses heightened, her speed quadrupled, and her strength beyond measure.
This was the day.
And while becoming an adult werewolf had its disadvantages—hunters, societal rules, and mates only being a few she imagined to be most aggravating, she was still excited for the change.
She was probably overthinking things though. Her father had never run into a hunter before and being a rogue meant she wasn’t bound by Pack Law so no worries there. But, while the mate concept had worked well for her parents, Lina rejected the idea. She was not keen on the notion that she was bonded to someone she didn’t have a choice but to love. Any restrictions put on her free will was something she had no desire to long for. Apparently, the best part of becoming an adult werewolf was the new ability to sense a mate and most, if not all girls her age, looked forward to that as if it was the second coming. Lina, on the other hand, wanted choices, and being forced to love someone because they were ”made for you" was not her choice. Besides, she was still young—wild, free, and inexperienced and not quite sure who she really was as a person. She had more growing up to do and didn’t want the hindrance.
Lucan wiped his eyes and smiled, “It’s almost ten o’clock. Come on, birthday girl! I fixed your favorite breakfast!” Still not yet motivated to move, Lina fell against the wall, sliding down to sit on the floor and grumbling the whole way. All she wanted to do was to go back to sleep.
Her father chuckled at her as he walked out the door, knowing exactly what would get her ass moving. He yelled over his shoulder as he headed down the stairs, “Theron sent you a birthday gift!”
Now she was awake.
Lina stared at the neatly wrapped box that sat on the kitchen table in front of her. It was small, a little bigger than her fist, wrapped in lavender paper and tied with a dark purple bow. She had laughed quite heartily when she first saw it. At least Theron had finally realized she was too old for pink princess wrapping paper now.
His gifts were one of the reasons she looked forward to her birthday every year but it wasn’t because she wanted what was inside. Don’t get her wrong, she loved each gift she was given... However, Theron’s gifts meant more. They resembled the promise he made to return one day. They let her know that he still remembered her and valued their friendship.
She missed him every day.
And when she blew out those candles year after year, one more added to the cake for another passing of age, her only wish was that this year, this birthday—any birthday without him, really—would end up being the one year where he would gift her his presence and not a present. But, every year, for the last ten years, it was a store bought gift that graced her home.
This year would be no different.
As always, she followed her father’s rule of enjoying her breakfast before opening her gift... each year got a bit easier to hold back the anticipation of what may lay within. Her patience grew because each year, it was not what she wanted from Theron... the Ancient could never fit himself in such small boxes.
Carefully peeling off the purple wrapping, as if she wasn’t really going to toss it in the wastebasket afterward, Lina slid her short nails under the tape, tearing it away and revealing a small, black velvet box underneath. Her fingers caressed the box, the soft outer material felt smooth and inviting to her skin.
Her heart beat rapidly within her chest as she opened the lid.
Inside, was a small, folded up piece of paper, handwritten and signed by no other than her long lost best friend:
Please excuse my absence from such a momentous occasion. Unfortunately, I have been kept away from you for longer than I anticipated. I think of you every day, hoping you are well and happy.
Please accept this small token of my affection—I do remember my promise. I pray you haven’t forgotten either.
Lina smiled, absentmindedly touching the small claw mark behind her ear. Theron had never left her a note before... not even a card that wished her a happy birthday. Only a gift. Every year. And while that was great and all, the elegant handwriting of this note had given her so much more than any present could. It reassured her that she was remembered. She was loved and she was important. The added signatures of the other three Ancients was just as heartwarming, though she had only ever met DeLoren.
Lina reread that little note multiple times, her happiness increasing tenfold with each sentence before her eyes finally caught sight of what just so happened to be hidden away in the velvet box. Mouth slightly agape and eyes wide in wonderment, she traced the platinum chain with her fingers.
It was beautiful.
Two hearts sat daintily upon the chain, two to two and a half inches in size. The solid platinum heart was upside down, twisted, and intertwined with a diamond-studded heart of the same size, right side up... the specific positioning reminiscent of an infinity symbol. In the very center hung a small red ruby—circular, smooth, and free of any backing. Lina pulled the necklace from its display. Holding it in front of her, she was transfixed in awe of the way the light shone through the ruby.
But as she inspected it closer, she noticed there was an inscription etched into the red stone. Curious, she squinted her eyes determined to read the tiny sentence. And by tiny, she meant extremely tiny. So tiny, in fact, that even her wolf DNA could not help her eyes decipher such a small detail. Lina wondered if she was just imagining it. Maybe it wasn’t writing at all... just a scratch or two in the stone—an imperfection.
It didn’t matter, she loved it anyway.
Not wanting to break it in the off chance she would shift without warning, Lina turned to put the jewelry back in its box. Once she had control over her body, she swore she would wear that necklace every day, for the rest of her life, never to be taken off. But it was in that moment, the moment she turned, her eyes caught sight of the projection on the wall to her left.
Her eyebrows scrunched in curiosity.
Mindlessly, she raised the necklace back up in the empty air. The sunlight hit the ruby once more, sending its rays through the stone and causing a sort of crimson prism to appear on the wall.
What she had seconds ago convinced herself were just scratches, were in fact, not. There was an inscription inside the ruby and when a light was put against it, it projected that sentence onto the surface.
Lina read the words aloud, slowly and quietly, for this gift—this message—she knew, without a doubt, was for her and her alone. Though she trusted her father, she did not want to share whatever was to be revealed because it had come from her dear friend. It meant something to her... more than something. It meant the world.
“I pinkie promise today, tomorrow, and forever...” she recited.
A fleeting memory tickled Lina’s mind—like butterfly wings, soft yet untouchable. The harder she tried to grasp it, the further it flew away. She didn’t remember what a pinkie promise had to do with anything and still, she somehow knew it had meaning.
Every moment in life had meaning.
The conversation echoed through her mind like a record on constant repeat. There was a purpose. There was intent. But for what or who... she didn’t recall.
So instead, all she could do was stare at the sunlit words upon the wall.
“Today, tomorrow, and forever...”
Theron had never been in human form in front of her—never spoken, never gave her his pinkie... who then had?
However, before Lina could connect the dots, it happened.
Impeccable timing, once again.
Like a thousand needles pricking her body at once, a heat flared from under her skin. Starting at the back of her neck and expanding outwards throughout her body.
A sharp stabbing pain hit her stomach, the force equivalent to a knife being shoved and twisted into her gut.
The necklace that once hung from her hand, fell onto the table, temporarily forgotten.
Lina instinctively clutched her stomach, a startled cry escaping from her lips. Another, strong and even more painful stab brought her to her knees just as Lucan rounded the corner of the kitchen, eyes wild and frantic in confusion and concern.
“Dad?” Lina raised her head, tears of pain blurred her vision. She didn’t know what was going on but she felt like she was dying in the most agonizing way possible.
“It’s happening,” her dad answered, breathlessly. Picking her up off the floor, one arm under her knees, the other behind her back he hauled her outside.
Laying her on the ground, Lucan cupped her face in his hands, his eyes meeting hers, “Listen, sweetie, I know it hurts but it’s going to be more painful with clothes on. I need to undress you.”
“No,” she cried. The thought of her father seeing her naked appalled her. Sure, when she was a kid, he had dressed and undressed her many times as it was his duty as her parent, but something about him doing exactly that now, at the age she was currently (post-puberty), brought about a feeling of disgust and repulsion.
Lina hissed as another stab assaulted her body. This one, unfortunately, was not focused solely on just her stomach.
This was worse.
The entirety of her body spasmed as if a bolt of lightning targeted her from the sky above with a direct hit.
Not knowing whether to curl up or straighten out, she lost all ability to control her muscles—they flexed, contracted, and tightened, no longer under her control.
Lucan started ripping her clothes apart, the fastest way of freeing her from their confines.
Lina didn’t object this time.
“You need to breathe, Catalina! Breathe!”
She heard her father’s demands.
She desperately wanted to obey.
And yet, she couldn’t comply.
The pain was so real, so raw, she couldn’t manage to pull enough air through her lungs. The constant drum of her heart radiated throughout her whole body. Uncontrollable tremors, like rolling waves of the ocean, flowed violently under her skin.
Then, it got even worse.
“Baby, listen to me, your bones are going to realign. It’s going to hurt...”
And he was right.
The cracking, snapping, and breaking of her human form began and Lina was sure she would pass out from the pain. Had she not been screaming bloody murder, she probably would have emptied those half-digested pancakes from her stomach.
Her cheeks were wet from tears and she could do nothing but wish for death.
Her body was no longer under her command.
Every pop, every realignment jerked her violently in various directions.
Her saliva glands worked overtime and she could feel the drool falling out of her mouth, mixing with the snot from her nose.
After what felt like hours but was more likely only a couple of minutes, her screams slowly turned into animalistic cries and whimpers, until finally, like the snapping of fingers, it was over.
The pain was instantly gone.
Lina lay upon the grass, her chest rising and falling with every deep breath of relief she took to calm her nerves and discomfort. She stared straight ahead, afraid to move for she did not completely trust that the pain was gone.
Lucan ran a soothing hand through her pelt in bewildered astonishment. A small sense of dread befell him as his mind worked overtime to grasp the view before him.
“How can this be?” He whispered incredulously.
Kai sat hidden in the brush beneath the massive tree that grew beside the Bakkas cabin. His black coat, tinged with yellow, sparkled in the sunlight that peeked through the thick canopy above him.
Ears perked and head cocked, he watched the scene unfold before him, feeling quite sympathetic and helpless for the she-wolf he had been assigned to guard.
He remembered very well the first time he shifted and how painful it had been. At first, he thought he was dying but as his heart continued to pound on, confirming he was not, in fact, anywhere close to death, he could only then wish for it.
Yearn for it.
Pray for it.
It was an intense and unyielding pain—something he had not felt before or since.
So he knew exactly what Lina was going through. And he also knew, there was no stopping it.
No relieving it until it was complete.
First shifts SUCKED.
With that said, it should also be noted that that was not what kept him frozen and baffled in his hiding spot.
What made his body refuse to move was the aftermath—the sheer, undeniable beauty of the wolf that Lina had become...
She was slightly smaller than a regular she-wolf but her muscles were lean and taunt. She would be fast and swift, able to escape or confuse any opponent with her speed.
Her nose was pure black, her eyes swirling with blue, green, yellow, and maroon colors—a quality only the Ancients themselves possessed.
But that wasn’t the most puzzling thing.
Not by far...
Her fur, the color of snow, glittered in the sun. Hues, the same color that danced inside her eyes, also coated her pelt—like a diamond that sparkled under a fluorescent light.
Again, a trait only the four Originals owned.
Not expected nor imagined for a regular werewolf.
And Kai would know... He had been around since the beginning.
What stuck out more though, what captured his attention most, what made his brain work overtime, and what would surely be the cause of many sleepless nights was a symbol on her forehead.
Only the Ancients had symbols.
Kai considered, only for half a second, about calling Theron. Letting him know about the strange pelt his tiny she-wolf had shifted into. But again, that was only for half a second.
He was only supposed to contact his brother if Lina was in danger.
Theron’s rules, not his.
Kai couldn’t help but chuckle at his brother’s misfortune for he quickly decided that since Theron had been adamant about ”The Laws of Guarding Lina,” he would not, therefore, update him. Call it spiteful, call it cruel—Kai didn’t much care either way. He found it all rather humorous.
He would not deny that the girl was special, he felt the pull—the urge to protect... the scent of the moon goddess. But he also felt his brother was a fucking idiot for leaving and staying gone for so long. It was obvious this she-wolf stirred something inside Theron that had long ago been put to death and buried deep within. Kai was not ignorant. But, if his brother was insistent upon being so hard-headed, then he didn’t deserve such an update.
Let it be a surprise for when he finally returned to her side.
It was petty, Kai recognized that, but he did it for Lina because she couldn’t. It felt to him like a slap in the face for the heartbreak Theron had put her through. This was the only way Kai could think of to get some sort of sense of justice for the little blonde girl.
So he stared at that mark that adorned her forehead, a satisfied smirk upon his wolfen face. It was bold and black, a stark contrast with her iridescent coat: a waxing crescent moon with four claw marks slashed through it—claw marks matching exactly that of Theron’s own symbol.